In 2007, the Islamic State of Iraq was seen as “the richest of the insurgency groups” in Iraq with $1 billion to 1.5 billion “collected in revenue by the group through foreign donations, enforced taxation and confiscation of the property and funds of Iraqis.” But the U.S. surge and ISI missteps significantly damaged the jihadist group’s ability to raise funds.
ISIS’s financial recovery has been marked by a slight shift away from reliance on local extortion networks (although those are still in effect), improved organizational and financial management by ISIS leader and self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the departure of U.S. troops in 2011.
The most important elements of ISIS’s funding are sadaqa (voluntary donations) from Arab donors in the Gulf; sales and tolls collected on sales of oil from fields under its control; and increasingly through money made by controlling key infrastructure.
Here’s a rundown of ISIS’s main funding channels:
Sadaqa from private donors:
- Support from Saudi donors and fighters
- Qatari donors and bundlers (see here, here, and here)
- Kuwaiti fundraisers
- Donors from the United Arab Emirates
- Other donations around the world including Indonesia
Fundraising is aided by contemporary marketing methods:
- Publication of a glossy annual report to attract “investors”
- Increased use of social media to raise funds
- ISIS controls 60 percent of Syrian oil including the lucrative Omar field
- In Iraq, ISIS controls Butmah and Ain Zalah oil fields, the refinery in Baiji, and oil and gas resources in Ajeel in northern Iraq
- ISIS sells or collects a portion on black market sales to Turkey, Iran, and in Syria itself
- Revenue estimates for ISIS range from $1 million to $3 million daily
- In addition to oil, control of key infrastructure such as the dams in Mosul, Fallujah, and Tabqa present increasingly significant revenue potential for ISIS.
- Professor Ariel Ahram notes this is already occurring at Tabqa, where ISIS is involved in selling electricity.
- New York Times reporter Tim Arango says that possession of the Mosul dam can enable ISIS to “use it as a method of finance” through extortion schemes to continue their operations.
- Isis has seized arms from Iraqi depots, including U.S. weapons given to Iraqi forces, plus weapons smuggled from Turkey and Croatia
- The collection of ransom money has sustained ISIS throughout its existence
- Antiquities smuggling
Incidently, little is being done by the Gulf states to curtail the flow of donations to ISIS because they either want an independent Sunni state carved out of Iraq or to replace Iraq’s Shia-led government with Sunnis. Washington should designate Saudi Arabia and Qatar as state sponsors of terrorism, but it won’t because of diplomatic considerations.
Without interdicting the donations and the contraband oil, U.S. airstrikes will have limited effect on ISIS’s coffers.
While she ran the Points of Light Foundation, U.S. Senate candidate Michelle Nunn (D-Ga.), authorized MissionFish, a Points of Light donation processor, to pass contributions from eBay customers to charities of their choice, including Islamic Relief USA (IR-USA). The Nunn campaign refers to this authorization as “validation;” in other words, Points of Light had researched the charity and validated it for inclusion on MissionFish’s list of eligible charities.
The Nunn campaign argues that $33,000 donated by eBay shoppers passed through Points of Light to IR-USA does not constitute a donation by Points of Light to IR-USA. That is disingenuous because what actually happened is that Points of Light received these ear-marked donations and then cut a check themselves to IR-USA. Points of Light benefits from the transaction because it increases the appearance of their overall charitable volume. The eBay customers would not have been able to donate funds to IR-USA while completing their purchases online if MissionFish had excluded the organization on their menu of options.
IR-USA donates millions of dollars each year to Islamic Relief Worldwide, a UK-based organization that has been banned by Israel for aiding Hamas, and whose leadership is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. A Department of Justice official has implicated IR-USA for being a conduit for the flow of money from America to terrorist groups abroad. Russian intelligence indicates that IR-USA funds militants in the North Caucasus—the region where the family of the Boston marathon bombers originate. Nunn and Points of Light could have discovered several of the red flags about IR-USA, many of which had already cropped up before validation occurred, by conducting due diligence research or even a basic Internet search.
Unfortunately, Points of Light isn’t the first organization to legitimize IR-USA. IR-USA work has been acknowledged by Hillary Clinton’s State Department, the Obamas, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and it maintains 501(c)(3) status with the IRS.
These politicians and agencies have been willing to overlook questionable practices by IR-USA because of their eagerness to demonstrate cooperation with Muslim Americans and Islamic charitable sector. The embrace of IR-USA was exacerbated by IR-USA’s fraudulent representation of itself as a larger charity than it actually was by hyper-inflating the valuation of their deworming drug stockpiles. Although the value of deworming drugs may sound like a technical, minor point, it is not. IR-USA basically perpetrated a fraud for several years by overstating the value of the drugs which made up 75 percent of their assets. Bigger institutions like USDA and Points of Light are likelier to partner with bigger charities, which IR-USA seemed to be. If IR-USA had reported a truthful value of its donations and assets, it may not have been viewed as a big enough charity to attract institutional partners like these.
A major charitable bundler like Points of Light had the resources to discover the disturbing truths about IR-USA’s connections to Hamas and its fraudulent financial statements prior to validation. It’s time that federal agencies and institutional donors started paying less attention to warm-and-fuzzy statements by politicians about what a great partner a certain charity is, and pay more attention to the results of basic due diligence research. Until then, and until there are changes at the highest levels of the IRS and the Department of Justice, and a willingness to confront IR-USA for its history of misrepresentations, we will probably see decisions like Nunn’s repeated again.